For those of us born near Lake Victoria fish particularly that delicious tilapia is a part of our lives in so many ways, it is indescribable.
We eat it in every form. Boiled right off the lake still jumping. We roast fish into another form of food. Fried fish is wonderful particularly in that Lakefront Lwang’ni hotel chains in Kisumu that have now given way to the rebuilt Kisumu Port.
Kisumu folk better get another place or place to set up more Lwang’ni model of beautiful eateries dedicated to the great fish supply from Nam Lolwe, some of the best in the world. Get new places or God will never forgive you for denying Kenyans one of the best outlets for food.
Below is the kind of fish dish you got at Lwang’ni beach hotels which were a bunch of many eateries gathered together along Kisumu beach right into the lake each specializing in their own delicacies and sense of service to attract customers because as you enter the joint, in fact before you even enter, someone was enticing you to a particular cuisine for that day and offering good deals for your meals.
The other beauty at Lwang’ni beach hotels is that they had a boat service ride with engine boats taking you into the lake for a cool ride and kids love it going out there and coming back to eat some good food.
One other truly amazing thing about Lwang’ni is that the eateries were owned and operated by local people who pretty much had been in Kisumu all their lives and they knew what was going on and what they needed to do to achieve success.
I tell you all these to remind people that fish is a big part of the lives of millions of Kenyans and not just a round Lake Victoria but all over the country and I have not touched on sea fish yet which Kenya has in plenty in our coastal communities and cities.
We eat fish. We catch fish. We trade in fish not just in Kenya but all over the world. Kenya is a major supplier of fish. And those of us living near the world’s largest freshwater lake, we have to take it very seriously because freshwater has its own unique supply of fish to us and others.
Now the big problem for us in the Lake Victoria region is that our natural fish supplies have been dwindling for decades and it is getting worse every year. That is how cage fish farming has knocked our doors and we are knocking back. We want this and we want it big time.
Right now there is one budding cage fishing community right outside the doors of my sister who lives a stone throw away from Luanda Kotieno beach, where cage fish farming is now a reality. Personally, I can’t wait to jump in there but that is another story.
Here is the story Mr. James Omollo stares with pride across the expansive Lake Victoria and points at two fish cages that have transformed his life.
Fish cage farming has turned into a thriving business that meets the demand for fresh fish in the local market in the wake of dwindling stocks in the natural waters.
“As long as I can fend for my family and make an income,” says Omollo, “then I plan to have more cages in the lake.’
The floating fish cages technology was harnessed in 2013 after trials were successfully conducted at Dunga beach, Kisumu County, by Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).
Currently, fish cage farming is practiced in five riparian counties of Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay, Busia, and Kisumu.
In the beginning, fish cage culture presented itself as a new socioeconomic frontier with good prospects for income in Lake Victoria, besides conserving declining wild fish stocks.
However, Dr. Chrisphine Nyamweya, the assistant director at KMFRI, observed that the rising fish cage culture as forms of investments lead to environmental degradation besides threatening natural fish production in the lake.
“The practice brings about the discharge of particulate and dissolved nutrients from uneaten waste feed, faecal matter, and excretory products which are bound to negatively impact the fishery environment,” Dr. Nyamweya explained.
He adds that the nutrients are toxic in the lake as they increase pollution thus the haphazard installation of cages is spelling doom for the lake’s ecosystem.
Data at KMFRI shows there are over 6,000 fish cages on the Kenyan portion of Lake Victoria with each cage having the capacity to produce one tonne of fish annually.
According to KMFRI, the current aquaculture capacity in the lake is 60,000 tonnes of fish annually against annual wild production of fish which stands at 100,000 tonnes.
“The cage culture is growing rapidly and will soon overtake the wild and natural fish production in the lake,” notes Dr. Nyamweya.
According to the assistant director, the space for natural products is shrinking at an alarming rate, meaning fish cage farming will eventually take over the lake.
The changing dynamics of Lake Victoria fisheries over the last decade have led to an altered ecosystem.
The expansion of fish cages in the lake reflects changes over the last century.
Dr. Nyamweya said fish cages are common systems in freshwater and marine environments and have become popular due to their flexibility in placement, ease of expansion, and high return on investment.
Environmentalists are worried that fish cage farming is a threat to the lake’s ecosystem and to important species.
Michael Nyaguti, the chairman of Magnum Environment Network, protested that many cages are installed in the lake without following regulations.
“We suspect that some fish kills are as a result of waste feed which is highly polluting the waters and uncalled for,” he says.
Nyaguti adds that farmed fish do escape and interact with other fish in the wild resulting in the spread of diseases and parasites.
With all the risk factors, says Nyaguti, the cages will end up overtaking the natural fish production which will alter the entire lake ecosystem.
KMFRI data shows that species like Tilapia have already shrunk by more than 50 percent in the last decade but the resilient Nile perch shrunk by 23 percent. The bigger Nile Perch has been resilient because one Nile Perch can produce 17 million eggs compared to Tilapia’s 300 eggs.
Here is another brilliant idea of a cage fish farm of a different model in Uyawi not far from my home in Bondo Town. I can think of this model in another beach in my neighbourhood called Wagusu which is pretty isolated but very accessible.
Adongo Ogony is a Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada